Eye Witness Assessment: Blackpool's Alarming Slide
Although Blackpool almost suffered an equal fate to that of their fellow Lancastrians Bolton on visiting Reading on Tuesday night, the tone and manner of defeat was quite different.
Don’t misunderstand me, this was wretched from the Tangerines – an almost hopeless lack of quality exposed cruelly by the new directness Nigel Adkins has instilled recently – the team simply blown away by the home team’s marked superiority.
But while Bolton’s superannuated fancy dans fell apart amid dreams of former glories and Premier League moves, Blackpool could not be faulted for effort – the protracted moanfest of the Paul Ince era having been supplanted by caretaker manager Barry Ferguson’s back to basics approach.
That involved a return to a standard 4-4-2 formation, an outdated modus operandi in some quarters but a blessed relief for fans after Ince’s stubborn reliance on an exceedingly defensive variant of 4-5-1.
Where Ince had briefly impressed was in engineering a defensive solidity and the centre back pairing of Premier League survivor Craig Cathcart and ex-Ranger Kirk Broadfoot should be as reliable and solid a combination as most team’s possess in Championship climes.
Cathcart has suffered with injuries throughout his time at Bloomfield Road but knows how to mark while some excellent last ditch clearances were more a reflection of the lack of cover around him than any glaring failings in his own display.
Alongside him, Broadfoot has the hangdog look of a Western baddie and can be pedestrian, but he is dogged too and a failure to cope with Adam Le Fondre, on proverbial fire, and author of a second successive home hat-trick, is no real disgrace.
Tony McMahon was brought in earlier this transfer window to fill a right back spot which Ince had been negligent in plugging for too long. He did reasonably well despite being temporary surplus to requirements at lower league Sheffield United while another loanee, Liverpool’s Jack Robinson provided cover on the opposite flank.
Both will start the next game although a 5-1 defeat is a 5-1 defeat and little succour can really be claimed – both Garath McCleary and Jobi McAnuff exposed a collective lack of pace on the full backs’ part and both could probably be filed under the label ‘bog standard’. Meanwhile, keeper Matt Gilks did nothing wrong amid the bawling at those ahead of him.
It was perhaps in midfield where ‘Pool really lost the plot – Isaiah Osbourne was ineffective in the extreme, rendering moot the Trojan work of another newcomer, the diminutive David Perkins and leaving the Tangerines on the back foot before being withdrawn at the break along with the equally anonymous Nathan Eccleston.
Chris Basham worked manfully on the right side of midfield in a limited way but it’s up front where the conundrum lies. 4-4-2 has been welcomed back like an old friend but it was Ince’s contention that neither Michael Chopra or Steve Davies are properly fit and both certainly struggled with the pace of the game – this despite a ridiculous belter from the latter.
Of the substitutes, Andy Halliday, a wild card signing from Livingston to Middlesbrough a couple of years ago, is another temporary employee and he put himself about to the extent that he has a good chance of beginning Saturday’s derby at Blackburn.
Meanwhile, the inconsistent Ángel Martínez did little to the change the picture, former Royal Nathan Tyson’s career seems to be in terminal decline and another new man, David Goodwillie, stayed on the bench, presumably lacking match fitness.
Of those missing through injury, Ricardo Fuller continues to be a modest trump card but at 34, cannot be expected to contribute massively for much longer while Gary MacKenzie is pretty much the only fully fledged alternative to Cathcart and Broadfoot and Ferguson has decided not to mix the role of player and manager.
That could well be a mistake – after all, fellow-Scot Kenny Dalglish won a double doing it at Liverpool and Blackpool badly missed the tigerish determination and leadership of the new boss. Given the paucity of the current options available to him, Ferguson might want to think again.
Such woes are played out against a litany of off-field troubles of course. With the £5 million the club received from QPR for Matt Phillips yet to be invested, the £11 million disbursed to that notorious bag-sewer Owen Oyston still making headlines, the development squad rubbing shoulders with Accrington and Fleetwood in Division 3 of the pyramid, and the club still marooned at the occasionally flooded Squires Gate training ground (the one described by Ian Holloway as a ‘hell hole’), there is a listlessness about the current hierarchy.
Even the one current trump card, a player who could have made Blackpool a cool £8 million in the Summer, Tom Ince, is about to depart and was missing here. Some below par performances in 2013-14 do not detract from his status as the best player the club possesses but with Premier league suitors gathering, it looks like the fee won’t approach that previous offer.
With a goal difference of minus 12 and a winless run that stretches back to November 2, the Tangerines lie eight places from safety but look considerably poorer than most of the teams below them. Those pre-season soothsayers of doom looked destined to chow down on humble pie when Chris Walker warned of the club’s problems for us in December. The knives and forks may be staying in the cupboard after all.